The Raise Up Massachusetts coalition is working to get questions regarding paid family leave and a 15-dollar-per-hour minimum wage on the Massachusetts ballot in November of next year.

The coalition, made of up more than 100 community, faith and labor organizations across the Commonwealth, held a seminar for volunteers in the New Bedford area Wednesday night at Bristol Community College. The seminar was designed to teach volunteers how to go out to supermarkets, train stations and other public gathering spots in order to begin the process of collecting the signatures necessary to get the questions on the ballot.

Andrew Farnitano, spokesman for Raise Up Massachusetts, told WBSM News that the organization has just two months to collect the 65-thousand signatures needed for each question to make the ballot. He said there will be a huge push beginning this weekend.

"We just got approved to start collecting signatures," he said. "It's going to be a fast campaign to collect all those signatures, so we've got people out there every day now."

Farnitano says the group actually plans to collect 220-thousand signatures in total, because some will not be validated due to circumstances such as people moving or signing illegibly.

On question would pose the possibility of providing up to 16 weeks of job-protected paid leave for workers caring for a sick or injured family member, or to care for a newborn child, as well as up to 26 weeks to recover from their own serious illness or injury. Farnitano said the leave would be paid through an insurance benefit that employees would pay into each week, easing the financial burden on employers trying to cover them while they are out.

"Too many workers in Massachusetts face a horrible choice between the job they need to put food on the table, and their health or the health of a family member," he said. "This insurance program would give workers the time they need to recover from illness, bond with a newborn child or take care of a sick family member without having to worry about their job, whether or not they have food or money to pay the bills."

He said employers and employees would pay into the fund, which would then be available to all workers in Massachusetts.

"The workers would receive the money when needed out of the insurance fund, and businesses would be able to use the money they would normally pay the employee that is on leave to pay the replacement worker, so they wouldn't be stuck paying the employee and the replacement at the same time," he said.

The other question would ask voters if they approve raising the minimum wage to 15-dollars-per-hour in one-dollar increments over the next five years, with an annual adjustment to the cost of living each year after that.

"We think it's a responsible way to give businesses time to prepare, to plan ahead," Farnitano said. "The minimum wage should rise with the cost of living. Workers have to pay more and more each year for the additional cost of living, and their wages should reflect that. If minimum wage had kept up with the cost of living over the last 40 years, we wouldn't be in this problem, where workers make so little."

Raise Up Massachusetts thinks that these two ballot questions, if approved, would go far in giving workers a fairer share of the pie, and a chance for a better future.

"The big issue is that someone working full time, or even more than 40 hours a week, and earning minimum wage can't afford to pay for groceries, pay for gas, pay for rent in Massachusetts," Farnitano said. "Not enough workers can keep up with the bills, much less go to school and get ahead in life, or support a family. We think anyone who works full time should be able to get ahead."

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